05 November 2014

China’s Recent Submarine Development & Deployment: Two Great Articles

Two unusually well-written articles by top journalists. Definitely worth reading if you haven’t already.


Jeremy Page, “Deep Threat: China’s Submarines Add Nuclear-Strike Capability, Altering Strategic Balance,” Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2014.

One Sunday morning last December, China’s defense ministry summoned military attachés from several embassies to its monolithic Beijing headquarters.

To the foreigners’ surprise, the Chinese said that one of their nuclear-powered submarines would soon pass through the Strait of Malacca, a passage between Malaysia and Indonesia that carries much of world trade, say people briefed on the meeting.

Two days later, a Chinese attack sub—a so-called hunter-killer, designed to seek out and destroy enemy vessels—slipped through the strait above water and disappeared. It resurfaced near Sri Lanka and then in the Persian Gulf, say people familiar with its movements, before returning through the strait in February—the first known voyage of a Chinese sub to the Indian Ocean.

The message was clear: China had fulfilled its four-decade quest to join the elite club of countries with nuclear subs that can ply the high seas. The defense ministry summoned attachés again to disclose another Chinese deployment to the Indian Ocean in September—this time a diesel-powered sub, which stopped off in Sri Lanka.

China’s increasingly potent and active sub force represents the rising power’s most significant military challenge yet for the region. Its expanding undersea fleet not only bolsters China’s nuclear arsenal but also enhances the country’s capacity to enforce its territorial claims and thwart U.S. intervention.

China is expected to pass another milestone this year when it sets a different type of sub to sea—a “boomer,” carrying fully armed nuclear missiles for the first time—says the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, or ONI.

China is hardly hiding its new boomers. Tourists could clearly see three of them at a base opposite a resort recently in China’s Hainan province. On the beach, rented Jet Skis were accompanied by guides to make sure riders didn’t stray too close.

These boomers’ missiles have the range to hit Hawaii and Alaska from East Asia and the continental U.S. from the mid-Pacific, the ONI says.

“This is a trump card that makes our motherland proud and our adversaries terrified,” China’s navy chief, Adm. Wu Shengli, wrote of the country’s missile-sub fleet in a Communist Party magazine in December. “It is a strategic force symbolizing great-power status and supporting national security.”

To naval commanders from other countries, the Chinese nuclear sub’s nonstop Indian Ocean voyage was especially striking, proving that it has the endurance to reach the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s headquarters in Hawaii.

“They were very clear with respect to messaging,” says Vice Adm. Robert Thomas, a former submariner who commands the U.S. Seventh Fleet, “to say that, ‘We’re a professional navy, we’re a professional submarine force, and we’re global. We’re no longer just a coastal-water submarine force.’ ” …


David Tweed, “China’s Clandestine Submarine Caves Extend Xi’s Naval Reach,” Bloomberg, October 31, 2014.

Beneath the surface of the South China Sea off the tropical Chinese resort island of Hainan, an underwater tunnel guides submarines into a lair reminiscent of a James Bond spy movie.

From this pen the subs can venture in and out of the contested South China Sea hidden from the prying eyes of reconnaissance planes deployed by the U.S. Navy, which for the past half century has enjoyed almost unfettered access to the waters, say military watchers who cite satellite images of the area.

The fleet of diesel and nuclear-powered submarines reflects President Xi Jinping’s efforts to ensure the security of sea lanes vital for feeding the economic growth on which the nation’s stability rests. It’s also provoked discomfort among neighbors bruised by China’s approach to territorial disputes. …

“China’s advance in submarine capabilities is significant,” Admiral Samuel Locklear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, told the U.S. Senate in March. He later told Senator Kelly Ayotte that it was unfortunate that defense budget cuts meant the U.S. attack submarine fleet would shrink from 55 to 42 by 2029, according to DefenseNews, a security publication. …

…a diesel-electric Type 039 Song Class submarine docked at the Chinese-funded International Container Terminal in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo in September, days before a visit by Xi to New Delhi. The Indian Ocean is home to shipping lanes carrying about 80 percent of the world’s seaborne oil, mostly headed to China and Japan.

“If you are dependent upon seaborne commerce and if you’re not comfortable with your dependence on another power’s ability to dictate your access to the seas, then you’re going to want to develop your own capabilities to protect the sea lanes yourself,” China’s state-run Global Times said in an Oct. 20 article.

The submarine stopped in Colombo en route to the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Somalia to join a navy escort mission, China’s defense ministry said in response to faxed questions. …